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   Chapter 4 FUGITIVES FROM JUSTICE

The Highgrader By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 13749

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


At the Lodge too an early breakfast was held, though it was five hours later than the one at the camp. The whole party was down by nine-thirty and was on the road within the hour. The morning was such a one as only the Rockies can produce. The wine of it ran through the blood warm and stimulating. A blue sky flecked with light mackerel clouds stretched from the fine edge of the mountains to the ragged line of hills that cut off the view on the other side.

The horses were keen for the road and the pace was brisk. It was not until half the distance had been covered that Joyce, who was riding beside the captain, found opportunity for conversation.

"You sat up late, didn't you?"

"Early," the soldier laughed.

"How did the savage behave himself?"

"He went the distance well. We all contributed to the neat little roll he carried away." Kilmeny smiled as he spoke. He was thinking of Verinder, who had made a set against the miner and had tried to drive him out by the size of his raises. The result had been unfortunate for the millionaire.

"He has a good deal of assurance, hasn't he?" she asked lightly.

The captain hesitated. "Do you think that's quite the word? He fitted in easily-wasn't shy or awkward-that sort of thing, you know-but he wasn't obtrusive at all. Farquhar likes him."

"He's rather interesting," Joyce admitted.

She thought of him as a handsome untamed young barbarian, but it was impossible for her to deny a certain amount of regard for any virile man who admired her. The Westerner had not let his eyes rest often upon her, but the subtle instinct of her sex had told her that he was very much taken with her. Since Joyce Seldon was the center and circumference about which most of her thoughts revolved, it followed that the young man had chosen the sure way to her favor.

Moya Dwight too found that the young fisherman flitted in and out of her mind a good deal. He had told her, with that sardonic smile, that he was a workingman. Indeed, there had been something almost defiant in the way he had said it, as if he would not for a moment accept their hospitality on false pretenses. But, surely, he was worlds apart from any laborer she had ever seen. Last evening he had been as much at his ease as Lord Farquhar himself. A little uncertainty about the use of the spoons and forks had not disturbed him at all. In spite of the soft vocal elisions of the West, his speech had a dignity that suggested breeding. It was quite likely he was not a gentleman, according to the code in which she had been brought up, but it was equally sure there burned in him that dynamic spark of self-respect which is at the base of all good manners.

The little town of Gunnison rioted with life. Born and brought up as she had been in the iron caste of modern super-civilization, Moya found the barbaric color of the occasion very appealing. As she looked down on the arena from the box her party occupied, the heart of the girl throbbed with the pure joy of it all. She loved this West, with its picturesque chap-clad brown-faced riders. They were a hard-bitten lot, burned to a brick red by the untempered sun of the Rockies. Cheerful sons of mirth they were, carrying their years with a boyish exuberance that was delightful.

Most of the competitors for the bucking broncho championship had been eliminated before the arrival of the party from the Lodge. Among the three who had reached the finals was their guest of the previous evening.

"Jack Kilmeny will ride Teddy Roosevelt," blared the megaphone man.

The English officer turned to Farquhar. "Didn't quite catch the name. Sounded like my own."

"That's what I thought," contributed his sister. A moment later, she added: "Why, it's Mr. Crumbs."

That young man sauntered forward lazily, dragging his saddle by its horn. He saddled the trembling animal warily, then swung lightly to the seat. The broncho stood for an instant motionless, then humped itself from the earth, an incarnate demon of action. As a pitcher, a weaver, a sunfisher, this roan had no equal. Its ill-shaped nose and wicked red eyes were enough to give one bad dreams. But the lean-flanked young miner appeared clamped to the saddle. Lithe and sinuous as a panther, he rode with a perfect ease that was captivating. Teddy tried all its tricks. It went up into the air and came down with all four legs stiff as iron posts. It shot forward in a series of quick sharp bucks. It flung itself against the wall of the arena to crush the leg of this rider who held the saddle with such perfect poise. But Jack Kilmeny was equal to the occasion and more. When the brute went over backward, in a somersault, he was out of the saddle and in again before the vicious outlaw had staggered to its feet. Even the frontier West had never seen a more daring and magnificent piece of horsemanship.

Captain Kilmeny clapped his hands enthusiastically. "Bravo! Well done!" He turned to Moya, who sat beside him. "Finest bit of rough-riding I ever saw. Not one man in a million could have done it."

"It's all in getting the hang of the thing, you know," drawled Verinder complacently.

Moya, who was leaning forward with her dark eyes fixed on the two superb animals fighting for mastery in the arena, thought both comments characteristic. The captain was a sportsman and a gentleman, the millionaire was neither.

India whispered in the ear of Moya. "He's as broadminded as a crab, just about."

The reference was of course to Verinder. "I think we ought to be fair, even to a crab, dear," Miss Dwight answered dryly.

The battle between the outlaw broncho and its rider was over. The confidence of Teddy Roosevelt as well as its strength had been shaken. The bucks of the pony were easy to foresee. Presently they ceased. The horse stood with drooping head, foam dripping from its mouth, flanks flecked with sweat stains.

Kilmeny swung from the saddle, and at the same time Colter stepped into the arena. He drew Jack aside and whispered in his ear. India, watching the rough-rider through field glasses, saw the face of the young man grow grim and hard. Without the delay of a moment he pushed through the crowd that gathered to congratulate him and walked out of the grounds with Colter.

The other two riders who had reached the finals were both experts in the saddle. One of them, however, had been traveling with a Wild West show and was too soft to hold his own against the bit of incarnate deviltry he was astride. To save himself he had to clutch at the horn of the saddle.

"He's pulling leather," shouted one of the judges, and the man was waved aside.

The third cowpuncher made a good showing, but his horse lacked the energy and spirit of Teddy Roosevelt. The unanimous decision of the judges was in favor of Kilmeny. But when they sought for him to award the prize the

new champion was nowhere to be found.

Moya Dwight felt with genuine disappointment that the man's courtesy had failed. She and her friends had applauded his exploits liberally. The least he could have done would have been to have made a short call at their box. Instead, he had ignored them. She resolved to bear herself more coldly if they met again.

The early shadows of sunset were stretching down the rough mountain sides by the time the visitors from the Lodge reached the river ca?on on their homeward way. Soon after this the champion rider and his friend Colter passed them on a stretch of narrow road cut in the steep wall of the gulch. The leathery face of the latter took them in impassively as he gave them a little nod of recognition, but the younger man reined in for a few words. He accepted their congratulations with a quiet "Glad you enjoyed it," but it was plain that he was in a hurry. In his eyes there was a certain hard wariness that seemed hardly to fit the occasion. Moya could not avoid the impression that he was anxious about something. As soon as he well could he put spurs to his horse and cantered after his companion.

"I don't like your savage as well as I thought I was going to. If he can't be pleasanter than that you may keep him yourself, Moya," Joyce announced with a smile.

It was perhaps a quarter of an hour later that the sound of hard riding reached them from the rear. Five dusty, hard-bitten men, all armed with rifles and revolvers, drew level with them. The leader threw a crisp question at Lord Farquhar.

"Two riders pass you lately?"

"Yes."

"One on a big sorrel and the other on a roan with white stockings on the front feet?"

"Yes."

"Say anything?"

"The younger one stopped for a few words. He is a Mr. Crumbs, camped on the river just below us."

The lank man with the rifle across his saddle bow laughed grimly. "Yes, he is-not. His name is Kilmeny-Jack Kilmeny. I'm the sheriff of Gunnison County-and I want him bad."

"Did you say Kilmeny?" asked the captain sharply.

"That's what I said-the man that won the broncho busting contest to-day."

To Moya, looking around upon the little group of armed men, there was a menacing tenseness in their manner. Her mind was groping for an explanation, but she understood this much-that the law was reaching out for the devil-may-care youth who had so interested her.

"What do you want with him? What has he done?" she cried quickly.

"He and his friend held up the gatekeeper of the fair association and got away with three thousand dollars."

"Held up! Do you mean robbed?"

"That's what I mean-vamoosed with the whole proceeds of the show. How long since they passed?"

"Between a quarter and half an hour," answered Farquhar.

The sheriff nodded. "All ready, boys."

The clattering hoofs disappeared in a cloud of dust down the road.

The rough places of life had been padded for all these young women. Never before had they come so close to its raw, ugly seams. The shadow of the law, the sacredness of caste, had always guarded them.

India turned upon her brother big dilated eyes. "He said Kilmeny. Who can the man be?"

"I don't know." He was silent a moment in frowning thought, struck by an unwelcome idea. "You remember Uncle Archie. He had a son named Jack who lives somewhere in Colorado. D'ye remember he came home when you were a little kiddie? Stopped at granddad's."

The girl nodded. "He fought you once, didn't he?"

The captain nodded. The doubt began to grow into certainty. "Thought I had seen his face before. He's our cousin Jack. That's who he is."

"And now he's a highwayman. By Jove, he doesn't look it," contributed Farquhar.

"I don't believe it. Such nonsense!" flamed Moya.

"Fancy! A real live highwayman to supper with us," Joyce reminded them with sparkling eyes.

"I'm sure he isn't. There must be a mistake."

"He was troubled about something, Moya," Lord Farquhar suggested. "He and his friend were riding fast and plainly in a hurry."

"Didn't he stop to talk?"

"He had to do that to avoid suspicion. I could see his mind wasn't on what he was saying. The man was anxious."

"I thought you liked him," Moya charged scornfully.

Her guardian smiled. "I did, but that isn't evidence that will acquit him in court of being a road agent."

"He's India's cousin-maybe. How could he be a criminal? Shall we have to cut her and Captain Kilmeny now?" Miss Dwight demanded hotly.

The captain laughed, but there was no mirth in his laughter. "You're a stanch friend, Miss Dwight. By Jove, I hope you're right about him."

Deep in her heart Moya was not at all sure. What did she know of him? And why should she care what he was? The man was a stranger to her. Forty-eight hours ago she had never seen him. Why was it that every good looking vagabond with a dash of the devil in him drew on her sympathies? She recalled now that he had hesitated when she had mentioned his name, no doubt making up his mind to let her think him other than he was. The sheriff must know what he was talking about when he said the man was an outlaw. But the appearance of him pleaded potently. Surely those clear unflinching eyes were not the homes of villainy. Nor could she find it possible to think his gallant grace of bearing the possession of a miscreant.

Before the day was out her faith in him had sunk to zero. Captain Kilmeny returned from the camp of the miners with the news that it was deserted except for two of the deputies who had stayed to guard it against the possible return of the robbers. He brought with him the detailed story of the hold-up.

Two masked men on horseback had robbed the treasurer of the Gunnison County Fair association as he was driving to the bank to deposit the receipts of the day. The men had not been recognized, but the description of the horses corresponded closely to those ridden by Kilmeny and Colter. It was recalled that these two men had disappeared as soon as the bucking broncho contest was over, not half an hour before the robbery. This would allow them just time to return to the corral on the outskirts of the town, where they had left their mounts, and to saddle so as to meet the treasurer on his way to the bank. It happened that the corral was deserted at the time, the boy in charge having left to see the finals of the contest. Cumulative evidence of guilt lay in the disappearance from the fishing camp not only of the two men suspected, but also of their companions, Curly and Mosby.

"Think he really did it, Ned?" India asked her brother.

"Can't say, sis. Looks like it," he answered gloomily.

Of the party at the Lodge only one member was pleased at the turn events had taken. Verinder's manner was as openly triumphant as he dared allow it to become. It cried offensively, "I told you so!"

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